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Joke chess problem

Joke chess problems are puzzles in chess which use humor as a primary or secondary element. Although most chess problems, like other creative forms, are appreciated for serious artistic themes (Grimshaw, Novotny, and Lacny), joke chess problems are enjoyed for some twist. In some cases the composer plays a trick to prevent a solver from succeeding with typical analysis. In other cases, the humor derives from an unusual final position. Unlike in ordinary chess puzzles, joke problems can involve a solution which violates the inner logic or rules of the game.


Self-solving problems

Some chess puzzles are not really puzzles at all. In the diagram at right, White is asked to checkmate Black in six moves. The joke in this case is that, by the rules of chess, White has no choice but to checkmate Black in six moves: the only legal moves available lead directly to the "solution." The solution is 1. d4 b5 2. d5 b4 3. axb4 a3 4. b5 a2 5. b6 a1=any 6. b7 mate. Tim Krabb provides other examples on his chess website[1].

Offbeat interpretations of the rules of chess

The rules of chess are fairly simple and clearly defined. Nevertheless, some composers have relied on ambiguities in the rules to create humorous puzzles. A typical example would be the position shown in the diagram on the left. According to chess legend, a composer stipulated "White mates in one move." It appears to be impossible (and is - the current FIDE rules require that when a pawn promotes, it must promote to a piece of the same color), but the 'solution' is for White to promote to a black knight on b8, thus depriving the black king of his only escape square.

A more sophisticated example was composed by Krabb and relies on a loophole that existed in the definition of castling. In the diagram on the right, White must mate in three moves. The main variation is 1. e7 Kxf3 2. e8=R! (an underpromotion) Kg2 3. 0-0-0-0-0-0! mate. White castles with his newly promoted rook, moving his king to e3 and the rook to e2. Under the rules of chess at the time, this move was legal because the rook had not moved yet. Afterward, FIDE amended the rules to require that the castling rook must occupy the same rank as the king.

Unusual piece placement or movement

Some problems are notable for extremely unusual patterns of piece placement. For example, direct mates and especially helpmates have been composed with the pieces in the shape of an O, L, 2, or even a tree.

The "back home task"

A more interesting example occurs in the problem at the right, where the final position echoes a familiar pattern. Krabb calls this problem the "back home task." He writes that "Strategy and deep themes are absent, Black only has forced moves, but it's one of the funniest chess problems I ever saw"[2]. White must selfmate in eight moves; i.e., he must force Black to checkmate White against Black's will. The solution is 1.Nb1+ Kb3 2.Qd1+ Rc2 3.Bc1 axb6 4.Ra1 b5 5.Rh1 bxc4 6.Ke1 c3 7.Ng1 f3 8.Bf1 f2 mate.

The "caterpillar theme"

Krabb named the "caterpillar theme" for problems and studies where doubled or tripled pawns move one after the other. The diagram at the left shows a particularly silly example, with White forcing mate in six moves. The solution is 1.Bb1 b2 2.Ra2 b3 3.Ra3 b4 4.Ra4 b5 5.Ra5 b6 6.Be4 mate. Krabb wrote a whole article on the caterpillar theme, citing about ten examples[3].

The American composer William A. Shinkman (1847 1933) is famous for composing the problem in the diagram at the right, with sextupled pawns on the a-file. As Krabb writes on his website, "The solution, as it should be in a joke, is not difficult: 1.0-0-0 Kxa7 2.Rd8 Kxa6 3.Rd7 Kxa5 4.Rd6 Kxa4 5.Rd5 Kxa3 6.Rd4 Kxa2 7.Rd3 Ka1 8.Ra3 mate"[4]. However, the problem is "cooked" (ruined, in the lingo of chess composition) because 1.Kd2 also forces mate in eight moves. However, this problem was not intended to be a sound mate in eight, and was instead intended to be a proof game in 34 moves with seven consecutive captures by Black[4].

Humor in more traditional chess problems

Humor is a component of some traditional themes, such as grotesque and Excelsior.

In 2004, Hans B hm sponsored a chess composing tournament for humorous endgame studies. The top two entries appear with solutions on Krabbe's website[5][6].

See also


  1. Examples — see items 276, 267, and 265
  2. Open chess diary — see item 289
  3. The article is not available via direct link, but it can be downloaded on the archives at (krabbe08.pdf).
  4. a b
  5. Open chess diary — see item 281
  6. Open chess diary — see item 276

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